Study Guide

Legislative Branch (Congress) - Non-Legislative Functions

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Non-Legislative Functions

  • Non-legislative functions are powers and responsibilities not related to passing laws
  • Include impeachment power, confirmation power, investigative power

As if the expressed, implied, and inherent powers don't already give Congress plenty with which to keep itself busy, the Constitution also assigns the legislative branch several important non-legislative functions—that is, powers and responsibilities not directly related to the process of making new laws.

Most of these are used only in special circumstances. For example, Congress has important electoral powers, but they are only used if the regular electoral practices fail to produce clear results. Most famously, the House of Representatives gets to choose the president anytime no candidate is able to win a majority in the Electoral College. (Luckily, this has only happened twice, and not recently; the House elected Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1825.) Along the same lines, the Senate has the responsibility for electing the vice president if no candidate for VP is able to win an electoral-college majority.

Congress also has the power of impeachment—that is, the power to remove from office any federal official deemed to have committed what the Constitution called "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." The Constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach—that is, to bring charges against government officials. If a simple majority of the House votes to impeach, then the Senate is required to serve as judge and jury, with a two-thirds supermajority vote needed to convict. So far in our history, only two presidents—Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998—have been impeached by the House. Both won acquittal from the Senate, however, and remained in office to complete their terms.

The Constitution also grants the Senate the unique non-legislative power to confirm or deny all major appointments made by the president. The Constitution requires that the president seek the "advice and consent" of the Senate when appointing federal judges, cabinet officers, and major officials of executive agencies. In practice, that means that a majority of the full senate must vote to confirm the president's nominees in order for them to take office. In recent years, Senate opposition has stymied presidential choices for a wide variety of federal appointments, including crucial appointments to the Supreme Court.

The Constitution also requires that the president seek the Senate's "advice and consent" on all international treaties, demanding a two-thirds vote of the Senate for any treaty to acquire the force of law.

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